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How To Become A Product Photographer: The Complete And Honest Guide

How To Become A Product Photographer: The Honest Guide

Author: Jeff Delacruz
Date Created: 2021-12-14
Table of Contents
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These days it's easier than ever to take great photos. However, there's a big difference between someone who takes photos for fun and a professional photographer. If you are considering following your dream and want to learn how to become a product photographer, this article is written especially for you.

I’ve been a professional photographer most of my life and have bounced around specializing from people to product over the last 20 years.  For the last 10 years, I've been president of POW Photography, a catalog studio focused on product photography.  In my career, I've met, worked for and hired many product photographers. Many of these professionals share similar traits listed below and will be discussed in further detail throughout this article.

What Makes A Good Product Photographer:

  • Detail Oriented
  • Passionate About The Technical Part Of Photography
  • Views Objects As Metaphors
  • Introverted Personality
  • Self Directed
  • Fascinated By The Nuances Of Light

If you feel like this describes you, then Product Photography might be the career path for you.  

There are a lot of opportunities that are related to product photography and require similar skills.  Food photography is a lot like product photography, but relies heavily on a food stylist, which could be you or an expert who is typically a trained chef.  Architecture photographers use a lot of the same techniques as product photographers but on a larger scale.  Even within product photography itself you can specialize in creative product photos, white background ecommerce, high volume catalog, clothing like ghost mannequin, 360 spin or even 3d uses product photography for Photogrammerty.  

Types Of Product Photography Jobs & Niches

  • Food
  • Architectural
  • Creative Advertising
  • Social Media Content
  • Animated Gifs
  • White background Ecommerce
  • Catalog Photography
  • Off Model Clothing
  • 360 spin

Are You A Product Photographer Or A People Photographer?

Within the photography industry in general, I feel like there are 2 high level types of photographers; objects and people photographers.  

People photographers tend to be extroverted and love being around others.  Photography for them is more of an interactive experience and their focus is usually about capturing that magical moment or expression.  These jobs are like fashion, lifestyle or wedding photography.  

This is why I think that personality has a lot to do with it.  Introverted people tend to lean towards photographing objects and extroverted people tend to lean towards People Photography.  

As an introverted person myself, I've photographed about 10 weddings in my career and the intensity of the interactions and emotions leaves me exhausted.  For others who are extroverted, this type of interaction might hype them up and fuels their energy.  

Another big difference is that when shooting a product there is no “magical moment”.  Obviously, objects have no life of their own, so anything that happens on set is yours to control.  You micromanage the final image whereas with people there is a lot of serendipity involved.  A special genuine smile or an interesting shadow that results in a unique look are types of unexpected results that are a part of photographing people that don’t happen on a product set. As a product photographer, I enjoy controlling every aspect of my creative vision from lighting to props. 

Picking your camp usually happens organically and subconsciously in the early stages of your career.  However, it’s fun to think about and experiment with both types of photography as you’re learning.  You should never discount one or the other.  A great photographer can shoot anything but specializes in the niche that they are most passionate about.  

In this article, we’ll discuss these different traits and discuss what it takes to become a product photographer in today's world.  

What skills do you need to be a product photographer?

Shooting product photos requires a lot more technical photography skills than other types of photography. The technical skills that I'm talking about is a mastery of exposure (f/stop, shutter speed, ISO), lighting (distance, modifiers), gear (camera and lenses) & retouching techniques. Do you need to be a genius? No! But, it does require patience and some hands-on training.

These are the fundamentals of photography and while you can take great photos on Auto settings, it is not enough to become a professional and you will be highly limited in what you can create.

As the president of a fairly large product photography company, I've interviewed 100’s of photographers who apply at POW to be product photographers and lacking basic technical photography knowledge is the biggest issue in their applications.  For many, photography is something they’ve only done for fun but haven’t fully taken it to the level of knowledge to make it a career.  

What does it mean to be a technical photographer

If you know the fundamentals of photography, you can create anything you imagine.  If you're an artist but don’t know the fundamentals, then you’ll struggle to bring those ideas to life.  

I taught photography for a few years at a college level and I know that this stuff is painful to learn and a lot of it doesn’t seem to make sense when you first encounter it.  I call it “Photography Math”.   

Anytime you try to take numbers and tie it to something abstract like light, it’s difficult to process.  You may have encountered this with a customer who doesn’t like a photo but can’t verbalize it, so they say something like “Can you give it more pop”.  This is nonsense of course, because what does that even mean?  What they might mean is can you add a highlight of +2 stops on the left hand side of the product following the contour, add a shadow on the right hand side graduated at -1 stops and increase the contrast and clarity by 25%.

As a photographer, I know that a stop relates to a specific unit of light and I can visualize it in my head.  I know what types of lighting, modifiers and intensity I need to set up to add 2 stops of light as a highlight to the left hand side of an image.  I can do it quickly and efficiently and not spend all day experimenting with it because I've done it 100 times.  

If you truly want to be a professional photographer, then these are the skills you need to master or you will always be missing something.

Should I Go To College For Photography?

Most photographers I've met learned these technical skills in college, but not all colleges teach you technical photography skills, some focus more on the art aspect instead. Below are some schools I know have a program that is more technically focused.

Colleges With Photography Programs That Are Technical Focused

  • Columbia College - Chicago
  • Art Center College Of Design
  • Rochester Institute Of Technology
  • Hawkeye Community College
  • New York Institute Of Photography
  • Mount Saint Mary University

Please mention other colleges that have good technical photography programs in the comments.

With the exception of Hawkeye & New York Institute of Photography, you're going to be paying over 100k for a degree in photography. In my opinion that's a pretty steep price considering most photographers make less than 70k a year. Also, in the photography industry, nobody cares if you have a degree, they only look at your portfolio and marketing.

I know as a prior student and a teacher, that learning photography math is hard to wrap your head around and requires more than just a few youtube videos.  The structure is a lot like learning algebra in high school (but far easier).  You’ll have a number of photo math problems like in a text book (although it could be anything) and you’ll need to practice them every week for a few months until you can do it without thinking.  You’ll have to memorize all your f/stops, shutter speeds & isos and correlate those numbers to visual results.

Having a teacher is helpful in keeping you accountable, encouraging you and correcting you when you get it wrong.  If I were to summarize my college experience, the first year was all about learning these fundamentals and the last 3 years were about practicing it and building a portfolio.  Although I had an amazing college experience, looking back, I probably should have dropped out after the first year and built my book on my own.  I know a lot of really successful photographers who did that and are not burdened by the same level of student loans as I have.  

With that being said, some of the best photographers i've met have at least some college experience but it doesn't mean that all great photographers i've met have a formal education. Those that didn’t are hyper motivated, passionate people and disciplined in their approach to learning new techniques. They could have learned any skill on their own but they fell in love with photography.

All the information that you need to be a photographer without going to college is on the web or in books and mostly free.  It's more about your motivation and discipline to get through this first level of knowledge.

How Can I Learn Product Photography

Most photography courses are focused on the art of photography and not the technical part of photography.  Maybe it’s because it’s easier and funner to talk/learn about composition and lighting tricks than it is to learn about photography math. Understanding these fundamentals was especially important back in the film days, where you couldn’t check the back of your camera to make sure the shot looked good and auto exposure was primitive.  Today, you can get really far without knowing this stuff but you will never become a master.

If you are serious about becoming a photographer, I've created a checklist of skills to research and study that you can check off as you learn them.

What skills do you need to be a product photographer?

  • Basic Exposure
    • F/stop
      • Depth of Field
    • Shutter Speed
      • Stop motion vs blur
    • ISO
      • Low vs High Noise/Grain
    • Balancing the 3 (exposure triangle)
    • Memorizing the scales for each
    • Ability to do photography math quickly and on the fly
  • Lighting Theory
    • Quality Of Light
      • Specular
      • Diffuse
    • Continuous vs Strobe
    • Powers/Guide Numbers
    • Mixing flash and natural light
  • Composition Theories
  • Color
    • Kelvin Color Temperature Scale
    • Gels - Correcting for varying color temperatures
    • Types of light bulbs and color temperatures
  • Gear
    • Camera settings
    • Lens
      • Focal Distances
      • Zoom vs Wide Effects
      • Fixed vs Telephoto 
    • Lights
      • Strobe models
      • TTL Flash
        • Manual vs auto
      • Continuous Light Models
        • Tungsten vs LED
      • Modifiers
        • Reflectors
        • Softboxes
        • Cards
        • Panels
      • The effects of each modifier & light type on both specular & diffuse products and people.
  • Photography Techniques
    • Natural Light Photography
    • Studio Photography
  • Retouching
    • Software
      • Photoshop
      • Lightroom
      • Capture One
    • Color Spaces & Profiling
      • Prep Print vs Web
      • Proofing
      • Creating Profiles
    • File Types
      • Raster vs Vector
      • When to use what file
      • File sizes, resolution & compression strategies
    • Key Retouching Techniques
      • Using Layers & Layer Masks
      • Compositing & Extraction
      • Blending Modes
      • Skin retouching
      • Sharpening Techniques
      • Faking light 
    • Digital Assets Management
  • Creativity
    • Art History: Research Other Photographers & Artists
    • Practice & Experiment
    • Build your collection of photographer (discussed below)
  • Production
    • Team Roles & Responsibilities
    • Estimating & Invoicing Practices
    • Pre-production, Shooting & Post Production Workflows
    • On-set culture
  • Business
    • Getting Business
      • Marketing & Sales
        • Digital Marketing
        • Website
        • Cold Outreach
        • Social Media
        • Relationship building
    • Project Management
    • Accounting/Bookkeeping
    • Testing & TFP
    • Bidding & Negotiating Project
    • Federal & State Business Requirements & Taxes
    • Copyright

The key to learning this stuff is to put it into practice.  Each skill relates to a specific visual effect.  Your goal is to correlate something abstract like an exposure of 1/100th @ f/16 at iso 100 to what that means visually in real life.  You're not going to do that through reading words. Visual things are tricky, because they only exist in the mind's eye until created.  All this learning is about understanding how to create that visual idea in your head exactly like you envision it.

This is a lot of information to learn, but it is a pretty good general overview of the skills that I've had to learn as a professional and I didn’t learn it all overnight.  Remember, this is a journey of passion and dedication to photography and it's all about learning tools to express yourself and share your ideas with others.

How did you learn?  Let me know in the comments what resources you recommend.

What Equipment Do I Need For Product Photography?

The most exciting part about being a photographer is gear.  Buying it, using it, talking about it with other photographers and testing different things out to see what wild photos you can create.  There are a lot of options out there but I have some specific recommendations if you’re starting from scratch and have nothing. 

If you’re only shooting photos of products, then you can get away with some cheaper equipment.  Products don’t move so you don’t need some of the special equipment required for people.  

I could easily write a book on each piece of equipment in this list and why I recommend it, but for this article I'm just going to list it below.

Below is my list.  This is a hot topic and nobody agrees exactly on what the best gear is, so i’m sure there will be a lot of debate.  Feel free to list your gear list in the comments section for others to read.  I know that with the gear listed below I could do just about anything.

The Best Equipment For Product Photography Quick List

  • The Best Camera For Product Photography
    • Canon 6D Mark 2
  • The Best Lenses For Product Photography
    • Canon 50mm
    • Tamron 90mm
  • Tripod Or Stand
    • The sturdier the better
  • Lights
    • 4 -5 Alien Bees 800 w/s
    • Flash Syncs
  • Stands
    • 2 c-stands
    • 4-5 light stands
  • Grip
    • A clamps
    • Tape
    • Wood blocks
  • Modifiers
    • 4-5 reflectors
    • Grid spots
    • 2 Softboxes
    • Foam core - Black/White
    • Frosted Plexi
  • Background
    • White
    • You pick
  • Computer
    • Macbook pro
    • Imac 27”
  • Software
    • Adobe Lightroom + Photoshop

Collect Your Favorite Product Photographers

This might sound a little strange, but I collect photographers.  

I went to Brooks Institute of Photography in 2004, which before it got bought out by an evil corp and run into the ground, was known as the “Harvard” of photography schools.  They had the largest library of photo books in the US and I worked there for a few years.  It was here that I began my collection of photographers.  

In particular, I became obsessed with Workbook, which was a Source Book, a publication that Art Buyers at ad agencies would subscribe to find commercial photographers.  It was expensive to be in, so only the best of the best of the best would be in it.  The techniques and styles were the most cutting edge photography and every quarter I poured through every issue to see what my favorite shooters were presenting.  I was a photographer fanboy, a collector of sorts.

In my classes, I would try and “copy” the looks and styles that my favorite photographers were doing to learn how they did it.  The subject matter I captured was always different but the lighting styles and retouching riffed off of these greats.  

By my final year of school, I was deeply in tune with the industry, who the big players were and what were the popular styles of lighting.  I had learned the techniques of those photographers and had started to do my own spin on them to make photos that were uniquely mine.  When I graduated I had a great portfolio of photography inspired by my collection.  I then reached out to all my favorite shooters in Chicago, showed them my book and landed assisting positions with them.  I’m not sure what it was that made them say yes, but I like to think that they felt a connection to my portfolio as it was inspired by their own work.

Collecting photographers is a great way to learn about the industry, benchmark your abilities, provide inspiration and help you get ready for the real world.  Today it’s easier than ever to gather up your heroes using tools like instagram to stay abreast of their latest work.

Be Obsessed With The Details Of Lighting

Product photographers are masters of lighting and obsessed with the details.   Lets consider the image below.  To a normal person, there probably isn’t much to see here, it’s just a pair of scissors.  As a product photographer, I know that this image was crafted with great skill.

The top part of the scissors has a light gray highlight that gradually transitions to a darker gray at the bottom.  This didn’t just happen on it’s own and was deliberately created by the photographer to give shape to the product.  The photographer used a number of different tools to create the shadows on the edges to define its shape against the white background.  A slight shadow where the scissors touches the ground gives it a place.  The retouching is clean and all the scratches and dust were considered.

How To Become A Product Photographer Example 1 - How To Become A Product Photographer: The Honest Guide -
How To Become A Product Photographer Example 1 2 - How To Become A Product Photographer: The Honest Guide -

Above you can see the working file before retouching.  A skilled photographer can do this quickly and efficiently, solving this lighting problem in their head before adding any additional lights or modifiers.  They can previsualize what they want the photograph to look like in their head and the lighting, modifiers and ratios it will take to get that image before they even take a photo.  It took this photographer around 10 min to light and complete this shot. 

By contrast, a new photographer might try a number of different solutions trying to figure out how to get the graduation they’re looking for and work on this capture for an hour or more. This would be totally unacceptable on a paid shoot with a client looking over your shoulder.  

A product photographers understanding of light is key to controlling the set. However, beyond the technical, different styles of lighting result in different “looks” or “feeling”.  For example, A specular light can feel more edgy, whereas a diffuse even light can seem more plain.  The abstract concept that types of lighting are tied to emotion is buried in our culture.  A true master photographer knows how to utilize light to play with those emotions and can present ideas beyond the object itself but with the light that shapes it.

Product Photography Is A Solitary Path

One trait of a product photographer that’s been doing it for a while is that they tend to be highly introverted.  The obvious reason is because the other main path is to photographing people.  The workflow of shooting product lends itself to an introverted personality.  When shooting a product, you spend a lot of time in your own head, solving little problems with each product you shoot.  You take a shot, look at the results and consider what can I do differently, what lighting can I add, what props can be positioned differently…  Each photo is a personal journey, with its own difficulties.  Solving these problems is the most gratifying part of the experience for a product photographer.  

Alternately, for extraverts, the fun part is working with others and the interaction that it takes to create photos.  Imagine a portrait shoot, where the lighting is setup in advance but the bulk of the shoot is working with the subject to pose and emote.  A product photographer usually doesn’t have these ongoing interactions with others during creation and if so, it’s usually limited. 

Before you decide to become a photographer, ask yourself if this fits your personality type.

Assisting Product Photographers

Assisting is a great way to break into the industry, but there’s a misconception that this is a time to learn.  When an established photographer hires you to be an assistant, you will be working on an active shooting job with clients.  This is not a classroom and the focus should be on assisting the photographer complete the job.  As an assistant you are expected to be good enough to be a stand alone photographer yourself but you are new to the industry and don’t have enough experience, connections or work to go it alone.  

When I was freelance, I had a young aspiring photographer reach out to me about assisting.  I reviewed his portfolio and decided to give him a chance.  On the day of the shoot I quickly realized the assistant was there to learn and didn’t have the experience or knowledge to really help.  While I set up the lighting, the assistant was asking question after question, taking notes in his notebook.  The client gave me odd looks of confusion as this was typically what the assistant did.  Once I had set up the shot, which was a ghost mannequin wedding dress, I got the client approval and we were about to move on.  The assistant then without permission, took out his camera, put the pocket wizard on this camera and started taking photos of the scene.  I suddenly realized that all the photos in his portfolio were set up by other photographers he had “assisted for”.  Although this wasn’t technically stealing, it was highly unprofessional.  

The lesson that an aspiring photographer should learn from this is that there is a certain level of knowledge that they need to get prior to assisting.  Technical knowledge is a must but also a base level understanding of the customs and practices of being on set as an assistant.  

In the past, I’ve heard of Assisting Bootcamps, which are usually a 2 day training seminar that will help you make good decisions when it comes to assisting and breaking into the industry.  Another way is to try and start as a second assistant at a discounted rate or even for free on smaller projects.  A second assistant position carries much lower responsibilities and expectations. 

Start With An Epic Product Photography Portfolio

I know we’ve just talked about all these things you need to know before becoming a product photographer, but none of it matters if you can create an epic portfolio.  You can literally know nothing about photography but if you somehow manage to create content that wows, inspires and challenges the status quo, then knowing the difference between an f/stop and a flashtube won’t stop you.  The thing is, how are you going to create an epic portfolio if you don’t know anything about the craft or the industry.  It’s certainly possible but highly unlikely.

To create a portfolio from scratch, you’ll need to start by creating “personal work” also known as testing or TFP (Trade For Print).  If you're photographing people, this usually means getting together a team of models and stylist to create work together for free for the general purposes of building your portfolio, networking and someday working together on paid gigs. One of the benefits of being an assistant is that you might form relationships with established talent and stylists and maybe collaborate with them on a test shoot early in your career. 

If you’re shooting product, you don’t typically need a team to test, but I've seen prop stylists and art directors work with product photographers to build their portfolios together. 

One key thing to creating your portfolio is you’ll want to approach your portfolio with a unified style and subject matter.  Many photographers define their “look” and stick with it most of their careers.  For many this look happens organically, but a talented photographer can make it whatever they want.  This look is defined by the type of lighting and retouching techniques used by the photographer.

These days it is still traditional to have a website that features your images but you should also be sharing your work on social media as well and building a following.  A physical book is not as common anymore.  For young people, a website might be an afterthought and their focus is on social, but for older photographers the opposite is usually true.  With media changing so quickly, different generations of buyers use different types of mediums to find photographers and you must try and utilize all of them to present your work.  

Research The Industry Before You Build A Portfolio

We just discussed some of the basics of creating a portfolio, but picking the content of your portfolio specifically is strategic. If you want to become a professional photographer, you’ll need to create a portfolio that can get you work.  It seems to be a common thread amongst new and student photographers to take the “If I create it, they will come” approach to their work.

As a teacher, on the first day of class I would go around the room and ask the students what sort of photographer they wanted to become.  It always surprised me when a student would say “Nature Photographer”. There is a common misconception that you can make enough money to sustain yourself by getting published in magazines or selling art. Of course there are always exceptions, like that kid who sold an NFT of his photo for a million dollars or that artist became famous, but these are not common experiences.   If you want to make photography your job, then you need to be realistic about who will give you money to create your photos.  In general, nature photos are a “want”, but product photos for an advertisement are a “need”.

Below is a simple strategy to get you some of your first clients.  

Start by researching what the top companies are where you live or want to live.  Then look and see how they’re getting photography.  In Chicago, Kraft/Heinz is a huge employer of freelance photographers and has the most food photographers of any city I know of.  Why, because that’s where the money’s at.  

Let's say you live in Seattle and in your research learn there's a lot of coffee companies in the Seattle area.  Make a list of all the coffee companies in that area that could possibly pay you for photography services.  Research their photography and build a portfolio of 15-20 photos inspired by their current photography but with your own spin and “better”.  Try and take it to the next level.  

Now go through that list and find the person responsible for photography at the company.  Could be an Art Director or maybe a Director of Marketing.  Now find their email, linkedin and other social media and professionally reach out.  They say it takes 8 touch points to get someone's attention in sales.

If your portfolio is good, targeted and your list is big enough, then you’ll land at least a few test shoots.  Boom.  Now you’re a product photographer that specializes in coffee.  Now take that experience and start reaching out to the biggest coffee companies nationwide.

How do I start a product photography business?

So you’re ready.  You’ve got the knowledge, the skills, the portfolio and the gear to be a photographer.  Now comes the hard part, turning it into a career.  This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, a life long pursuit.  There’s a joke amongst photographers that they will die leaning on a tripod.  Becoming a photographer is more than just a job, it becomes an identity.  So when you start down this road it’s important to think beyond the art but consider how you are going to make enough money to sustain yourself and the lifestyle that you’re signing up for.

With this in mind, you’ll need to become a business person.  As a business owner you will need to learn a bunch of stuff.  Initially, when you're getting started, you’ll want to focus on getting new clients and maintaining existing ones.  Don’t quit your day job just yet.  You are still a hobby photographer until you land your first few clients and it’s not even worth filling a business license until you're making over $600.  

Things to focus on when you’re starting your photography business

  • Your website
    • Your website is the centerpiece of your marketing efforts.  Your goal is to drive traffic to it.
    • Drive traffic to your website using SEO, SEM and Social.
    • Once they’ve visited your site, build a marketing funnel around it with lead forms, remarketing, follow-up and email marketing.
  • Your CRM
  • Build A Production Workflow
    • When a customer wants to hire you, what is the process they must go through from start to finish?
    • This could include: Pre-production, concepting, testing, bidding, invoices, image delivery, revisions…
    • Diagram it out in Word doc or Spreadsheet.  Keep it simple and try and implement and manage the workflow using the tools within the crm.

If you’re unsure about any of the above, then you’ve got some learning to do.  

Once you start having jobs coming in, it’s time to focus on the more traditional business stuff.

  • Get legal
    • I recommend creating an LLC with the state
    • Get business Insurance:  Gen Liability & Inland Marine.
    • Build Terms & Conditions contracts for your customers.
  • Organize Your Finances
    • Get Quickbooks online or some other accounting software and start tracking your income and expenses properly.
    • Learn to read your own financial statements
    • File your taxes
  • Invest In Growth
    • Set aside money to grow your business through marketing, sales or PR
  • Other adult stuff
    • Save for retirement
    • Purchase property
    • Invest
    • Health Insurance

By becoming a photographer you become your own boss and you now have to worry about all this stuff above.  If you have a hard month or there’s a pandemic that wipes out your client list, it’s up to you to figure it out.  Shooting great photos is just a small part of what it is to be a photographer, maintaining a steady stream of income so you can pay your bills is the real trick.

The Hard Reality Of The Photography Industry

If we’re being real, you should recognize that being a photographer today is harder than it’s ever been.  Digital photography has only been used by professional photographers since 2005 but after that transition it made it possible for most people to create decent photos with very little training.  Your true competition is DIY photographers and smartphones.  There is a classic archetype of a freelance photographer taking jobs, working with agencies and maintaining a studio.  Today, I see that becoming more and more rare.

The photography industry has changed dramatically and the idea of being a freelance photographer is not as viable as it used to be.  This is because the advertising mediums have changed.  Prior to 2005, most of our content was consumed using print media and the photos were created on film.  Newspapers, magazines, billboards all relied on 2d photography.  Today, we consume our media with our phones and computers, allowing for different types of content beyond 2d photos.  

Digital mediums like social have increased the demand for content, with the ideal frequency of new content being 2-3 posts per day.  Back in the day a freelance photographer would be hired to photograph 1 photo for their ad campaign in the newspaper and bill thousands of dollars for the day.  The skill level required to create a photo on film was greater.  Today, volume and diversity of content is more important than creating that one perfect photo.  Technology has made it possible for lower skilled creatives to create photos that are good enough.

If you have this vision of becoming a traditional freelance photographer I think it’s important to realize that this career path is not what it used to be.  

Today, I see people getting hired to create content with photography as one of many skills and not their primary job.  For example, you might get hired by a social media marketing agency to create video, stop motion, 3d, graphic designs and photography at volume. Or you might get a job as a Director Of Marketing and be asked to shoot photos for the campaign yourself.  I’ve even seen businesses with a light tent in the back room and they have a random employee like an office assistant take photos of their products in their spare time.  

Whereas the new mediums have increased demand for content, it has simultaneously lowered the value and demand of high quality photography to a select few.  We live in a time of quantity over quality,  where hype rules and the loudest marketer with the highest visibility wins.  

Being a photographer has always been hard, even before digital.  There’s a legend about a teacher handing out job applications for McDonalds to first year students to send this message home.  

I do not want to discourage you.  You can do this but you must be dedicated to your dream and look for opportunities in the marketplace.  Every generation of new photographers must try and challenge the previous generation.  When I started, I got my edge by being early with digital photography.  That might seem crazy now, but the transition from film to digital was intense for the industry.  Recent generations were all about leveraging social media and there are many photographers out there who became famous because of it.  

Entering the marketplace fresh, you need to ask yourself what is next and trudge a new path that nobody’s ever seen before.


I remember the exact moment that I decided to pursue photography as a career.  I was 19, sitting in a coffee shop with a friend, discussing the future preparing to start college for the first time in the coming spring.   She asked me, if I could do anything for the rest of my life, what would it be?  The only thing that came to mind was photography. I had been taking pictures for fun since I was a child but I never took it seriously as a job.  I really considered the question.  If I had to do something every day forever, photography was the only thing I could possibly think of.  Nothing else in my life up to that point made me feel as excited to be alive.  You only get to live one life.

That moment, in my head, I made a vow that no matter what it took, no matter how hard it got, financial or otherwise, I was going to be a photographer.

Since that time, I have not wavered in my passion or pursuit.  I joined the Army to pay for college and fought in the Iraq War in 2004 so I could pursue this dream.  I survived the 2008 recession as a freelancer and never gave up being a photographer despite almost losing everything.  I’m now navigating the pandemic and despite shut downs and economic uncertainty, I will still never give up.

In exchange for these sacrifices and difficulties, I have had the privilege of being my own boss, creating art for living and working with some of the greatest creatives in the industry. When I look back at my life so far, I can say that I didn’t hold back and gave everything that I am to this life.  I gave up the stability of a quiet life at a 9-5 office job in exchange for this dream.  

So in conclusion, I think the real question is not if you can become a product photographer but how far are you willing to go to become a product photographer.  You only live one life, so you should pick something that you love and give it everything you’ve got.

How To Become A Product Photographer FAQ's

How much does a product photographer make per hour?

An in-house product photographers makes an average of $20 -$25 an hour, however most product photographers are freelance. A freelance photographer bills a day-rate + expenses + usage which varies greatly, typically around $2000 a day for a 10 hour work day.

How do I start a product photography business?

Your first step to starting a product photography business is to create a great portfolio of photos you can use to market your skills.

How do I become a good product photographer?

Study great product photographers by searching sites like Workbook.com and experiment by mimicking their techniques. Take online classes if you don't know the basics. Practice, practice, practice.

How to get a job in product photography?

Build an online portfolio of relevant product photography. Apply to inhouse jobs online or send cold emails with your portfolio to companies or studios.

What skills do you need to be a product photographer?

Technical photography skills in lighting and retouching to start. If freelance, you'll need marketing skills to get your name out there and business skills to keep your business organized.

How to become a photographer for Amazon products?

Amazon doesn't photograph products for their site. Images are provided by the sellers who post their products on their selling platform. So if you want to photograph products for Amazon, you need to work with ecommerce sellers themselves.

How to get started as a product photographer?

Survey the industry and see what others are doing, learn photography skills and then build a portfolio.

How do I get better at product photography?

Practice, practice, practice. Research professional product photographers on Workbook.com and create self assigned photography assignments to match their level.

How can I learn product photography?

College is a typical path but you should weigh cost vs potential income. The best way is to take online courses or community classes & stay disciplined with experimentation and practice.

How do I market myself as a product photographer?

A great portfolio of images is your most powerful tool. After that, cold outreach, emails, digital marketing, social posts and PPC.

Written by Jeff Delacruz

Jeff is the President & Cofounder of POW Photography. For the last 10 years, he's been working directly with small businesses owners to help them improve their ecommerce listings with better photos.